Igor Chubaryov, program manager at HIAS New York.
HIAS, a leader in assisting refugees, is a UJA partner.
HIAS began in the late 19th century to help Jews escaping pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. Now in the 21st century, HIAS remains a leader, advocating for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers and assisting refugees of all faiths and backgrounds from around the world. UJA is proud to support HIAS’s work.
We talked with Igor Chubaryov, program manager at HIAS New York, which offers services to help refugees integrate into the community and build new lives.
(Q) You know what it’s like firsthand to be a refugee. Can you share your story?
(A) In my family, three generations experienced persecution. My grandparents fled from pogroms in their shtetl to a city in Ukraine. My parents evacuated from Ukraine with other Jews when the Nazis attacked. And I grew up with constant harassment as a Jewish boy in Tambov, Russia. When I was 24 years old and granted my visa, I went first to Vienna and then to a town outside of Rome, where I shared a one-bedroom apartment with five other people. I was on my own, and HIAS was my everything, providing guidance and filing refugee claims so I could come to the United States.
(Q) How did you start working at HIAS?
(A) It was my first job in New York. I arrived in March 1989, and HIAS hired me in November 1989. I spoke English, Russian, and Hebrew, and that year more than 36,000 Soviet Jews came to the United States (part of the mass exodus of Soviet Jews who immigrated to the U.S. around the fall of the Soviet Union). I could fill a needed role. And I did. I worked at the airport, where hundreds of people arrived on a few flights every week. I was the first person they saw in the U.S. I greeted them, helped get them through customs, get their luggage, and find their relatives. If there were no relatives, I’d help get them to a hotel in Manhattan or Brooklyn.
(Q) What would you want people to know about being an immigrant?
(A) Being a refugee is not easy. You lose your home, family, status. You don’t speak the language, or not fluently. You have to start from scratch. What I find from people across all different countries, backgrounds, and experiences is a common ground: They want to succeed and do well. It’s amazing to watch refugees and see how hard they work to get back on their feet and establish themselves here.
(Q) Tell us how HIAS’s work reflects Jewish values.
(A) HIAS is like the Statue of Liberty, welcoming millions of people to this country. I heard it said that HIAS helped in the beginning because the refugees were Jewish. A lot of people are here because their parents or grandparents came as refugees. And now HIAS continues to serve because that’s what Jewish people do — we help.